Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

Bees and you, their lives and yours



A bee feasts on a thistle in a local garden.

The other day I was in line at a hardware store across from a man piling the counter with products guaranteed to kill at least 60 kinds of bugs.

Very few of them would have any direct contact with the homeowner, and many that are beneficial in their own way to the promotion of life.

Sometimes as a judge in a local garden contest, I find myself in a garden with no flying things, lots of butterfly bushes, Echinacea, all the blooms loved by bees but nothing drinking the nectar, spreading the pollen, a dead garden, essentially poisoned by someone’s fear of bugs, or lack of understanding that all of nature is connected.

Apis Mellifera is disappearing, the honey bee leaving the hive to find nectar and never coming home and scientists are scrambling to find a reason. Studies in Germany are focused on the disruptive effect of electro-magnetic energy from cell phones. Bees raised in hives near high tension power lines often suffer from this problem because the EME confuses their built-in homing device.

Other researchers are pointing at our society’s rampant use of killing chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and fungicide. Bees are known to be very susceptible to the toxic effects of these poisons, which though not necessarily killing them directly, undermine bees’ immune systems so many other pathogens and pests can kill them.

One third of the American diet depends on pollination by honeybees, a fact many forget as farming becomes big business. Without honeybees forget about cherry pie, or blueberry muffins, or even apple brown betty or almond paste.

The Compleat Gardener maintains organic garden environments and we have no pest problem except for Japanese beetles, especially in neighborhoods with extensive lawns. We have applied nematodes, which are microscopic organisms present in any soil that attack the grubs that become Japanese beetles, with some success. There are other organic options such as the application of milky spore disease which is present in the soil in Japan and controls the population there. The rest of the neighborhood can be a problem, however, especially if someone hangs a beetle trap near your garden. This draws beetles from near and far and traps fill fast.

Generally if an over-population of some detrimental bug occurs, Mother Nature will dispatch the natural predators of the pest to deal with it. A tree can even produce chemicals that lure a caterpillar to the end of a twig then release the twig, caterpillar and all, for the long fall.

Back to the bees and kin – we have noted an increase of bumble bees gathering pollen in gardens, taking up some of the slack left by missing honey bees. Bumbles are able to pollinate some of the deeper flowers with their long tongues. Some flowers that need to be opened for access like snapdragons and others with lips depend on the heavy bulk of the black and yellow bumble bee to weigh down and open the flap.

The tiny, black aphidiid wasps are predators of aphids. They lay their eggs on the aphids and become parasites. If you find paper-bag colored aphid remains on your plants you have a population of these beneficials. The braconid wasps, also tiny and black, resembling flying ants, are the natural enemies of all kinds of vegetable-munching caterpillars, laying eggs on the host and becoming parasites. It’s all kind of gruesome in the bug world but way better than poison.

Essentially if you let nature take care of things you will find a balance is achieved without filling your environment with life-ending poisons. I once had a customer tell me that one day the exterminator arrived at the same time as the lawn care people who were spreading their own poison while the neighbor was spraying his trees. She watched her Martha Washington geraniums turn black and die in one hour and began to consider the effect on her own family.

compleatgardener@comcast.net

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